Apprentice chosen to open £1.8m housing centre in Brighton

Posted On 05 Jul 2011 at 3:37 pm

The shortest speech at the opening of Brighton and Hove’s £1.8 million new housing centre was made by 20-year-old apprentice carpenter Sonny Smith from Whitehawk.

The former Patcham High School pupil said: “I’d like to thank everyone who pushed for the apprenticeship scheme.

“Without it, I don’t know what I’d be doing.”

His speech was greeted with warm applause from the dozens of tenants, councillors, officials and guests who had gathered in the old Allen West factory in Moulsecoomb Way.

Sonny Smith, Councillor Bill Randall and Councillor Liz Wakefield

Mr Smith joined Councillor Bill Randall, the leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, and Councillor Liz Wakefield, the council’s cabinet member for housing, for the formal opening of the centre.

The Green politicians, senior housing official Nick Hibberd and Gary Lester, the managing director of Mears, the contractor, took more time in their speeches to spell out the centre’s aims.

Councillor Randall said: “It will help to improve the service to tenants and speed up repairs.

He said that scheme was also about regeneration, bringing a disused site back into use, and using environmentally friendly technology and design in doing so.

And, he said, the scheme was about training and skills, with Mears expected to take on 200 apprentices over the ten-year lifetime of their housing repair and maintenance contract.

As part of the deal between the council and Mears, the housing centre includes a kitchen manufacturing workshop.

It will be used to train apprentices, improve skills among local people and provide employment opportunities.

The council has been trying to improve the quality of its 12,500 homes since tenants voted against the housing stock being transferred away from council control on 2007.

The contract with Mears is intended to bring council houses and flats back into good repair and save millions of pounds from the council’s budget at the same time.

Priorities

Councillor Liz Wakefield, the council’s cabinet member for housing, said: “This new housing centre meets several of our priorities.

“Local tenants and leaseholders will see improved service and better homes while apprentices and local people will gain new skills.

“These are practical ways that help tackle inequality in a deprived area and bring services closer to where residents live.

“It’s also good for the environment because the centre is low-energy consumption and makes extensive use of green technologies.

“These features help us meet our goal to make the city one of the UK’s greenest.”

Mr Lester, who lives in Withdean, said that Mears won a contract to service gas appliances in council properties in 2005 when it had just two staff in Brighton and Hove.

He said that the success of the current contract meant that Mears now employed 160 people in the area.

And he added that Mears had worked with the council to make sure that tenants were “at the heart of everything” when it came to making key decisions.

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